Skip to main content
CNN.com CNN.com -- Health
ASK AN EXPERT
Got a question about a health story in the news or a health topic? Here's your chance to get an answer. Send us your questions about general health topics, diet and fitness and mental health. If your question is chosen, it could be featured on CNN.com's health page with an answer from one of our health experts, or by a participant in the CNNhealth community.




* CNN encourages you to contribute a question. By submitting a question, you agree to the following terms found below.
You may not post any unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. By submitting your question, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your questions(s) and accompanying personal identifying and other information you provide via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statment.
Thank you for your question!

It will be reviewed and considered for posting on CNNHealth.com. Questions and comments are moderated by CNN and will not appear until after they have been reviewed and approved. Unfortunately, because of the voume of questions we receive, not all can be posted.

Submit another question or Go back to CNNHealth.com

Read answers from our experts: Living Well | Diet & Fitness | Mental Health | Conditions

Expert Q&A

  • Share this on:
    Share
  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print

Are colonoscopies really necessary for people over 50?

Asked by Seymore Applebaum, Toronto, Ontario

Open quote
Close quote

Is it necessary to have a colonoscopy when you're over age 50?

Expert Bio Picture

Conditions Expert Dr. Otis Brawley Chief Medical Officer,
American Cancer Society

Expert answer

Dear Seymore:

Colon cancer is one of the top three most common causes of cancer death in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

There is very high certainty from well-designed trials that colon cancer screening, combined with effective follow-up and treatment of abnormal findings, reduces risk of colon cancer death by at least 35 percent and risk of getting colon cancer by 20 percent. I cannot overstress urging all normal-risk persons age 50 and above to start some kind of routine colon cancer screening. Next to lung cancer, it is the most preventable cause of cancer death.

Virtually every organization that has issued screening recommendations recommends that a normal-risk person (someone without a family history of colon cancer) start colorectal screening at the age of 50. The best data support use of a high-sensitivity stool blood test administered every year. Those with an abnormal finding should get colonoscopy to assess the colon for polyps, diverticula and cancer.

The next best data come from studies showing the benefits of sigmoidoscopy (fiber-optic visual assessment of the left side of the colon) every five years combined with stool blood testing. Many experts believe that colonoscopy (fiber-optic examination of the entire colon) every 10 years is beneficial. Colonoscopy requires an inconvenient bowel prep to remove all stool.

Recently, a number of groups, including my employer, the American Cancer Society, have also recommended considering virtual colonoscopy, which involves the same bowel preparation and a CT scan with some radiation exposure. Studies suggest that virtual colonoscopy with a CT scanner may actually be better than colonoscopy in finding colon cancer. The physician has a rewind button and can review the colon more than once. This is something not possible with colonoscopy.

I often tell patients, I do not care what test you choose, I just care that you choose and get a test. All persons with abnormal findings will ultimately need a colonoscopy.

Persons with a family history of colon cancer at an early age, or a history of inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis, may benefit from screening at an earlier age and may be best served with colonoscopy rather than the other screening techniques.

More Q&A

  • CNN's Medical UnitCNN's medical unit brings you the best experts available to answer your questions about current events and health issues that matter most to you.
Is secondhand smoke really that risky?asked by: Asked by David; Tampa, Florida
Can a nerve stimulator stop my back pain?asked by: Asked by Larry; New York
Is the inability of cancer patients to eat a concern?asked by: Steve Snodgrass; Bowling Green, Kentucky
Quick Job Search
keyword(s):
enter city:

CNN Comment Policy: CNN encourages you to add a comment to this discussion. You may not post any unlawful, threatening, defamatory, obscene, pornographic or other material that would violate the law. All comments should be relevant to the topic and remain respectful of other authors and commenters. You are solely responsible for your own comments, the consequences of posting those comments, and the consequences of any reliance by you on the comments of others. By submitting your comment, you hereby give CNN the right, but not the obligation, to post, air, edit, exhibit, telecast, cablecast, webcast, re-use, publish, reproduce, use, license, print, distribute or otherwise use your comment(s) and accompanying personal identifying and other information you provide via all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, worldwide, in perpetuity. CNN Privacy Statement.

The information contained on this page does not and is not intended to convey medical advice. CNN is not responsible for any actions or inaction on your part based on the information that is presented here. Please consult a physician or medical professional for personal medical advice or treatment.

Home  |  World  |  U.S.  |  Politics  |  Crime  |  Entertainment  |  Health  |  Tech  |  Travel  |  Living  |  Money  |  Sports  |  Time.com
© 2014 Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved.